Bill Oram: Oregon State Beavers’ football history can be told through wins against ‘fancy pants’ USC

It’s not a rivalry, at least not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t have a catchy name and for most of the past 100 years it hasn’t been particularly competitive.

But games against USC have always meant something extra at Oregon State. In fact, the history of Beavers football can be told through the wins — rare though they’ve been. Especially the ones in Corvallis.

Th Giant Killers of 1967. The 2000 upset that announced the Beavers as contenders. Freshman Jacquizz Rodgers breaking loose in 2008 to spoil the No. 1 Trojans’ national championship bid.

The Beavers host USC on Saturday amid a renovation at Reser Stadium. The Beavers are trying to remain undefeated. The Trojans want to make a push for the playoff.

Is this the next great Oregon State-USC game? It could certainly be the last one.

This is the collateral damage of USC and UCLA’s pending move the Big Ten.

You think the Trojans are going to be looking to schedule nonconference games in Corvallis anytime soon? Oregon State great Ken Simonton joined me on the Sports By Northwest podcast this week. The Beavers’ all-time leading rusher, who ran for a career-high 234 yards against the Trojans in 2000, had a message for the decision-makers behind USC’s exit.

“I hope they all suffer from diabolical hemorrhoids,” he said.

Ouch.

He’s not alone in the sentiment, even if the imagery is unique to him. Former Beavers quarterback Steve Preece called the LA schools’ departure “devastating.”

“We used to love to play SC because it was a chance to stand up to the big boys,” he said.

I doubt USC President Carol Folt gave a second thought to the likes of Oregon State when she signed off on USC’s exit from the Pac-12, shattering a hundred years of tradition. But the dichotomy between the city lights of Los Angeles and the Willamette Valley farmland embodies what has made the Pac-8, 10 and 12 so special.

When Oregon State and USC met, Preece said, “It was a culture thing. It was a way of life competition.”

And once every few years or decades, Oregon State rises up and wins that battle. They did last year in LA, before the Trojans axed Clay Helton and Lincoln Riley brought in a wave of star transfers like Heisman frontrunner Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison, named the nation’s best receiver last year at Pittsburgh.

Jess Lewis was raised on a farm in Turner. He made what is probably the most famous play in Oregon State history when he chased down OJ Simpson in the mud to preserve Oregon State’s 1967 win. He was cutting wood outside of his home in Corvallis when he picked up the phone on Wednesday.

His view of the Trojans over the years?

“Fancy pants, I call ’em,” he said. “We’re just old farmers and cowboys.”

The Beavers might not have quite as many farmers on the roster as they did in 1967, but that mentality remains.

“It’s always been … more of the David and Goliath story,” Simonton said. “SC’s always been that standard bearer when you talk about Pac-10, Pac-12 football.”

As the college football world has shrunk and the Beavers’ recruiting footprint has expanded, motivation has been found in other places.

Take Alexis Serna, the kicker who banged through four field goals to lift the Beavers to a 33-31 win over No. 3 U.S.C. in 2006.

“A lot of us, we had Southern California roots,” said Serna. “And so you kind of have that chip on your shoulder, like, ‘Man, I think I can compete at that level. I think they overlooked me. They had their chance to get me and they didn’t.’”

The Trojans have won 11 national championships and boast seven Heisman Trophies. This week, they are ranked No. 7 by The Associated Press.

“Winning those games,” Serna said, “was a big deal because of who they were.”

Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan threw four touchdown passes in Oregon State’s 45-27 win over USC last season. He will try to lift the Beavers to another win when the Trojans come to Reser Stadium this week. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)AP

Do the Beavers have one more upset in them? The Beavers have won four of the last seven games at Corvallis. The game will kick off at 6:30 pm

I don’t know that the Beavers have the firepower to keep up with the Trojans, but history tells us that weird things happen when USC comes to Corvallis.

In 1967, after Oregon State beat Purdue and tied UCLA with each ranked No. 2 when they faced the Beavers, coach Dee Andros famously declared he was tired of messing with second-ranked opponents.

“Bring on No. 1,” Andros said.

More than 50 years later, it’s time to bring on the last one.

— Bill Oram | boram@oregonian.com | Twitter: @billoram

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